Baywatch “War of Nerves” (part 1 of 3)
It’s been six long months since our last Baywatch recap, so another one was long overdue. This is one of those episodes where they try to explore the drama away from the shore, and also position Mitch Buchannon as a multi-faceted character. Clever; give us fewer bikini shots, and force us to watch David Hasselhoff trying to emote.
Here, Mitch gets terrorized by a Japanese drug lord who was arrested after Mitch broke up his drug ring, during some unspecified time in Mitch’s past when he was working as a lifeguard somewhere else. And the drug lord is played by longtime character actor Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa, who went on to star in the blockbuster Rising Sun just after this appearance, but here, he’s clearly slumming. Yes, even more so than when he played the bad guy in Showdown in Little Tokyo.
To begin the episode, we get an establishing shot of a man on a beach. The scene is rocky, windswept; pulsing with the feeling of isolation, and the steely resolve of an alpha male comfortable in his environment. It’s the perfect setting for a male deodorant commercial, or at least an ad for adult incontinence.
One thing’s for sure: it’s not a public beach in SoCal, because there’s not another soul to be found. Maybe Babs Streisand dispatched one of her minions in Malibu to sweep away all the footprints those damned seagulls tracked all over “her” beach.
As the guest credits roll, a figure looms into the frame, and we see that it is in fact our Adonis-of-the-Bay, Hasselhoff himself, proudly sauntering in that manner only a virile and testosterone-polluted male can, with his shirt tucked into his designer jeans. And what a shirt it is, looking like something for the understated man from the Brooks & Dunn Honky-Tonk Collection.
A sad-sack ballad fills the silence, and it’s something that’s better suited for a breakup scene midway through a Lifetime Original Movie. Just to help us grasp the concept of what’s happening here, we’re served numerous camera angles of Mitch ambling and looking around—for a full minute of screen time—to drive home that he’s a man alone on the beach. We get it!
Eventually, something happens. Off in a deep fog is a young boy, Mitch’s son Hobie, who’s running with a football and waving, and the Hoff grins at the sight. However, Mitch is not blanketed by excess condensation at sea level like the lad. What gives here?! It turns out this isn’t a flashback memory, so I’m at a loss.
The kid runs in slow-mo, tosses the ball to Mitch, and they clutch in a manner only fathers and sons can on the beach… or Rocky and Apollo Creed. They spin around and around, then share a double high-five and collapse in a rather uncomfortable embrace before walking off together. I sure hope this becomes significant later on, because there’s a hard edit away from that scene, as well as from any explanation.
Cut to a beer-fueled picnic taking place on a jetty, involving three couples. And one of the girls is Kelly Packard, showing up in a bit role years before she became a regular on this show. It’s possible she’s playing the same character, but do you really care?
One guy is pretending to surf on a fake prop rock that obviously came from the set of Land of the Lost. As waves splash the rocks, Kelly tells her friend to be careful, but you can count on him not being careful. Because being careful is for pussies!
As expected, Moon Doggie takes a tumble, spills his beer, and the stage rock rolls over onto his leg as he flounders in the surf.
His friends sort of act panicked about this development, but fortune shines on them as a beach patrol happens to be driving nearby. Our man Mitch is behind the wheel with his kid when Kelly and the other girl approach to report the calamity. Oh boy, I’m betting there’ll be a sermon about drinking on the beach coming this gang’s way later!
Upon hearing about the emergency, Mitch radios for backup. Damn, if this isn’t exciting! Actually, none of this is at all exciting, so yeah—Damn. It’s amazing that with nearly a dozen players, nobody manages to act anything close to frantic or keyed up. Even Hasselhoff can only trot from the truck calmly before navigating the rocks to reach the trapped pretend-surfer.
And then his backup arrives, and two middle-aged lifeguards race around with the kind of intensity that can only be delivered by actors thankful for any screen time at all. Actually, you might recognize one of these guys as this show’s Token Bald Lifeguard, but probably not.
There’s a gripping sequence where the three lifeguards try to heft the papier-mâché rock, and then they manage to extract the guy, who turns out to have a broken leg. He’s loaded into the back of the truck, and Mitch instructs the guys to take him to the hospital. Had he not been around to tell them this, I have to wonder where they would have taken him. “Get this man to the ice rink so he can skate gassers, and hurry!”
As they drive off, Mitch then turns to the crowd and gives them a loud upbraiding on the perils of drinking on the beach. (I knew it!) He also knows they’re all underage, without having carded a single person. A beer can is snatched away from a pasty kid, and in a rare piece of video, David Hasselhoff dumps the beer out.
A crowd has gathered on the rocks to witness the… fine, I’ll call it “heroics”. Among them is a shadowy, mysterious, sinister figure. How do I know he’s sinister? Is it because he’s watching Mitch a little too intently? It is that, improbably enough, he’s the only person in the area code not wearing beach attire? It may be both of these things, but I for one do not trust him because, amusingly, he’s one of the few on the entire beach wearing sunglasses.
And it appears this entire rescue scene was a blocking nightmare for the director, with staging and continuity screw-ups from start to finish. First, the guards chase people off the jetty, and then we see a crowd watching from the jetty. This leads to the guards carrying the victim off the empty rocks, and next thing we know, over a dozen people follow them off those same rocks. Finally, as Mitch walks with his kid away from the sand, the camera cuts to a close up of Sinister Shades Guy, who’s watching them as they walk down the rocks towards the sand.
Let this be a lesson to you burgeoning directors: never let real-life logistics get in the way of a good shot.
Oh, and it turns out Sinister Shades Guy is played by our special guest star, Cary Tagawa.